Here in Northern California we are having an unusual cold snap. Our Eastern European friends would laugh at what we consider "cold", as would our friends in Detroit. We have been dipping down to the low 30s Fahrenheit (-0.5 c) and reaching the mid-50s during the day. On my Saturday long run, through the Berkeley hills, I cracked ice when stepping in the mud puddles, and the leaves of the poison oak were covered in white frost.
Since I need something warm in my belly to fight off the chill, I made one of my favorite home cooked soups. I don't use a recipe; my soups are always improvised. However, there are some techniques I always use, and would call them "signature" secrets. And some of these secrets I don't see on-line when I Google soup recipes. So here is how I make borscht, taught to me in Kiev.
Red Beet Borscht - American Style via Kiev
Wash raw red beets. If you have large ones, 3 is a fair amount. If small, use more than 3. (Saute the greens later for a side dish, as you would spinach. Beet greens are better than spinach, and way, way better than kale.)
Pre-heat the oven to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap the beets in foil. Bake the beets until they are tender, maybe an hour, depending on their size.
Baking the beets will preserve their colour in your soup. If you boil the beets, they drain their colour. In addition, baking the beets gives them a sweeter, roasted flavor. (this is the big secret!) You can prepare the beets days ahead of time if you want, and just refrigerate your beets until you want to make soup.
Take pork fat, from bacon, or pork belly, and render. Chop up onion (red, white, whatever) and saute in the pork fat. If you are using bacon, leave the chunks of meat in the mix - yum. Add garlic if you like. I think garlic will give the broth richer flavor. (I love LOTS of onion. So you can add 2 whole onions if your a fan.)
Add water, or chicken broth, or beef broth to the pot of onions, garlic and bacon. At first maybe add 4 - 6 cups. You may add more later, depending on how chunky you want your soup. Add a spoonful of tomato paste and blend in. Bring to a simmer. (Tomato paste is optional. Often I leave it out. But it adds a little bit of richness. You can substitute a little tomato sauce, or a fresh chopped tomato. If using a fresh tomato, add it to the sauted onions and cook it a bit.)
Shred your beets on a grater. Many recipies chop their beets. But in Kiev I was taught to shred them on a large cheese grater. Personally the texture of shredded beets is my preference to chopped chunks. Add the beets to the soup.
Add spices. The spices I add include black pepper, salt (if the bacon or pork belly is not salty enough, so be carefull with the salt), a pinch of dill (not too much - be carefull with the dill), a pinch of caraway seeds (again - be careful with the caraway - you don't want your soup to taste like rye bread), and a bay leaf.
Simmer the soup for about 15-20 minutes. If the soup looks too chunky, add more broth.
Serve with rye bread, sour cream, a side of halusky галушка, some chopped hard boiled egg, or cucumber. The soup will taste even better the next day, when the flavors mingle a bit more.
In Kiev me and my brother ate borscht everyday. It is totally addictive!